I did not particularly care for my former mother-in-law. She was the opposite of my own mother. Whereas my mom was light, gracious, clever, and kind; she was direct, forceful, not one to say “I love you” easily if at all. She was a bossy woman, and not one to soften her opinions, ever. She didn't stand a chance in the shadow of my mother's pedestal.
When my ex and I got divorced I could not wait to never see his family again. It has been 8 years since we separated and much has happened since then. My ex-husband’s beloved father has passed away, a man whom I admired very much. His mother has battled gastrointestinal cancer, but far more painfully she has battled the bone-crushing loneliness of missing her husband, a professor who was endlessly optimistic, thoughtful and well read.
My daughter is now 10. Recently my former mother-in-law came to visit from Cleveland for an extended stay. I do believe it is painful for her to travel but she knows that to see my daughter, her only grandchild, for any length of time, it is easier for her to come here than for my daughter and ex-husband to take off work and school and travel there.
I went to pick up my daughter from her ‘Dad’s House’ (a kinder way we divorced people refer to our exes’ homes and the exes themselves as if we never had anything to do with them and my daughter just magically has a 'Dad' with a 'House'.). My former mother-in-law was there. When the door opened I found a much lighter version of the force to be reckoned with I used to know. Instinctively I gave her a hug and she hugged me back with such gratitude and kindness. A slender, small older woman grateful to be a part of her granddaughter’s life.
In that hug, I saw with clarity my harsh judgment, my resentment, and my ego. It was as loving a hug as it was like a knife in my heart, a humiliating mirror of what an asshole I'd been.
Image credit: Konstantin Yuganov
I saw my mother-in-law as a woman who has struggled, a girl who grew up with Depression Era parents where 'joy, satisfaction and personal fulfillment' were not daily discussions or expected impatiently as one's birthright. A woman who fought her way to college and a post graduate degree when her parents would only pay for her brother's tuition because, when you grow up on a farm, boys take priority. A woman who desperately loves her only granddaughter, who has battled cancer, and a woman who has now peeked over the edge of mortality but has been given a reprieve, brief or extended, no one knows. And with that glance at mortality, wants nothing more than spending time with her son and granddaughter.
She and my daughter have been having a wonderful time. 'Grammy’ is teaching my daughter to crochet. My ex-husband said that, while his mom used to be strict and taciturn, somehow my daughter and his mom are now crossing at a point on the continuum where they ‘get’ each other. They chit chat all day while crocheting or watching Wheel of Fortune like two old friends in a retirement home just happy to talk about whatever pops into their minds or on TV. My daughter comes home with stories about how much she loves her Grammy.
Grammy calmly and with dignity talks about the retirement home she is going in to. She does not balk, she is helping to pick it out, and there is no other choice I guess. She lives in Cleveland, and she needs assistance especially with the harsh winters and driving.
As my daughter and I drove away, I wanted to weep. Weep for the wasted emotion of not liking her; weep for how short life is; and weep for the futility of judging people harshly. Weep for not understanding that shared memories are the most valuable thing you can have with anyone.
Image credit: Konstantin Yuganov
You see this with presidents who were sworn enemies during elections and during their terms and hated each other as their reigns of power overlapped. Then, after they have finished their presidencies, time has passed, fate and karma begin to sink in, they understand that, for their brief moments in history, they shared experiences only the other could understand. When invited for ceremonies and other official appearances, you can see their ease with each other. They laugh and joke, throw their arms around each other for photos because, after all, they are the only other people in the world who know what their lives were like while they were each shaping history.
Image credit: LA Times
I regret every slight I have ever perceived and all the idiot mini wars and dramas I have ever participated in. I will pray tonight that Grammy has many more years to be with my daughter, and be grateful that somehow, now I feel love for her.
And I will pray tonight that I can somehow keep my ego stuffed into a very small box so as to never throw away or take for granted that everyone in my life right now is sharing the ride with me in time and space. I'm pretty sure that in a few more decades the shared memories with others will be all that I will have that will be worth anything to me.
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